Elected leaders clamor for more details on Columbia River Crossing 2.0

Members of the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program Executive Steering Group brought forth some concerns at the March 17 meeting.

As the clock ticks down toward the self-imposed deadline for the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program to select a “locally preferred alternative”, a number of elected officials are concerned they aren’t being given access to the information they’ll need to sign off on a project design.

As soon as next month, the project team will be presenting one draft alternative, which will include a recommendation on the number of lanes the project will have, what interchanges at Marine Drive and Hayden Island will look like and what type of transit we should expect. So far, however, the advisory groups charged with providing feedback have been given very few details on different alternatives being considered and the trade-offs between them.

“Candidly, I must tell you that I’m pretty disappointed in the discussion here… I don’t think I’ve learned anything in the presentation yet today.” -Mary Nolan, Metro Councilor

It has been months since three options were presented for the primary segment of highway over the Columbia River, all of which are slated to expand I-5 over the Columbia River to ten lanes. After those were put on the table, the IBR team did agree to analyze what might happen to the highway’s design if transit use and congestion pricing were fully utilized in the project design, but so far we haven’t seen any evidence that alternative options will be presented.

At the project’s Executive Steering Group meeting last week, Metro President Lynn Peterson signaled there could be problems ahead given the lack of details that have been presented to the group so far.

“I’m concerned that if we’re just going to get one recommendation based on a series of assumptions that it’s not actually going to allow us to see how the three components…play out in different ways,” Peterson said. She said she wants the group to be presented three different scenarios that they can examine more closely. “I think it’s going to be a shock to the system if there’s just one recommendation without a narrowing down.”

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Program staff have been guiding officials toward just one preferred alternative for several months. “One of the concerns with bringing multiple things forward is, it complicates the next step in the process,” Program Administrator Greg Johnson said, alluding to the supplemental environmental impact statement process the project will head into next. “What we’re doing is trying to get into the stadium, and there’s a lot of decisions within that stadium.”

The 2011 final environmental impact statement for the failed Columbia River Crossing project actually included two different alternatives for the Hayden Island/Marine Drive interchanges, pointing toward a false urgency to narrow things down completely at this stage. So far, most of the options being considered look very similar to the preferred alternative from that project, with proposals like an immersed tube tunnel (in use regionally in places like Vancouver, B.C) having been discarded last year by the project team.

Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty also pushed back on being presented one concept that’s moving forward.

“You’re telling me you’re doing all this work, but I don’t see it…and you’re telling me this is a major decision point, but it’s not that important because it’s going to change later.” she said. “I don’t delegate decision-making to my staff.”

She also raised the issue of having to get approval from other Portland City Council members when they are busy with work on the budget in May. “I think you’re putting unrealistic expectations on me,” she said of the current timeline. “If I’m this confused about the decision that you’re asking me to make in July…can you imagine how confused my colleagues are going to be.”

Washington State Department of Transportation Secretary Roger Millar described the locally preferred alternative as a starting point before the project is put through the “meat grinder” that is federal environmental policy review. “The decision we’re being asked to make this summer is not to pick an alternative to build. It is to pick an alternative to test,” he said. Right now in Seattle, Sound Transit, the regional transit agency on whose board Millar serves, is currently seeking comment on a draft environmental review of a planned light rail line; along a key segment of that line Sound Transit has selected no preferred alternative but is studying a whole slew of options.

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At a Metro Council work session on the project earlier this month, Councilor Mary Nolan, the only council member who voted against advancing funding for the project earlier this year, also expressed frustration with a lack of information.

“Candidly, I must tell you that I’m pretty disappointed in the discussion here. I had come to this conversation hoping that we would have a lot more detail from the project team than we seem to have. I don’t think I’ve learned anything in the presentation yet today,” Nolan said near the end of the work session.

If those details are to be fully fleshed out, they will only have a few meetings to do so before the self-imposed deadline to select a locally preferred alternative. The question is whether the rush to meet that deadline will leave any important considerations left unexamined. If any elected leaders are feeling pressured to make a decision they aren’t ready to make, things could get complicated, fast.

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Fred
Fred
3 months ago

The quote about “being in the stadium” is hilarious. It could mean practically anything.

buildwithjoe
3 months ago
Reply to  Fred

Public: We want details on 3 designs
ODOT PR: Here is a vague Stadium Analogy
Public: We want engineering details on 3 designs
ODOT PR: We want everyone in the stadium.

ODOT: Also we made this video where we sound smart, we take a bunch of horrible questions and call those ideas stupid so we sound even more smart

video below.

https://youtu.be/N3S8o9_p_dE

video above.

dwk
dwk
3 months ago

“The status quo has failed Portlanders. It was not prepared to deal with the stresses of the Pandemic, leaving many in our community searching desperately for a lifeline.
Our city’s recovery will take the readiness to let go of failed systems and the courage to rebuild.”

Hardesty tweeted this a couple days ago, so when you read her comments about decision making, take it as just a joke…. She acts like she has not been in charge for 4 years….. I do not want her anywhere near this process.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
3 months ago
Reply to  dwk

Yeah it’s pretty amaizing how politicians (especially near election time) suddenly get amnesia and forget they were in office for the past 4 years, so THEY are part of the problem that didn’t provide any solutions.
Yeah, “status quo” has failed, and look in the mirror to see who that is.

Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
3 months ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

All these “failed” leaders (local and national) didn’t simply parachute in and take their seats. They were elected and are reelected by voters. Maybe it’s time our creaky, old democracy to pass into history?

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
3 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

No, would never get rid of our ‘ol democracy.
Unfortunately the electorate thought voting for social justice warriors was going to fix the ills of Portland. Also, unfortunately, it took time to see how wrong they were.
A mayor who channeled his best Nero impression and watched the City burn.
City Councilers who said they’d help the campers and yet wouldn’t go against the loud mouth activists.
The ugly reality is, most people are social media junkies and that’s where they make their decisions. Who’s a reality TV star, who’s got the most “likes”, etc. It’s very very sad how our fellow citizens have fallen.
All I have is my vote and my voice to point out these things to my fellow citizens that wear those rose colored glasses. Sometimes I succeed. Unfortunately, social media is usually the winner.

dwk
dwk
3 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

She has not been re-elected but has raised a ton of money and is in full BS campaign mode.. Her twitter is hilarious, like she is not actually on the city council..,….
Wheeler got lucky and ran against someone more feckless than he is….

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

Maybe it’s time our creaky, old democracy to pass into history?

Yes! Make me your king!

ivan
ivan
3 months ago
Reply to  dwk

This is just trolling. It doesn’t have anything to do with the article or the IBR/CRC. I get the impression a handful of folks to ctrl-F on every BikePortland post for “Hardesty” and if her name is in there then they just post a random collection of complaints about her.

I guess sealioning doesn’t qualify for a comment deletion, but it sure does junk up these threads.

Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor
Reply to  ivan

Thank you for your comment Ivan, I hear it.

Charley
Charley
3 months ago
Reply to  ivan

Yes. Hardesty quotes are like a lightning rod that attract angry comments. Her quotes in this article had a similar character to that of the other elected officials. . . but they certainly elicit a more emotional reaction.

dwk
dwk
3 months ago
Reply to  Charley

Maybe because she is PBOT commissioner??

Charley
Charley
3 months ago
Reply to  dwk

Maybe! I would guess that, in part due to the police framing her, she’s much more well-known than Mary Nolan and Lynn Peterson.

dwk
dwk
3 months ago
Reply to  ivan

The article was about a major transportation project of which she is the PBOT commissioner, not some bystander although she acts like one and you fall for it…

Charley
Charley
3 months ago
Reply to  dwk

I’m trying to understand this clause from your comment: “major transportation project of which she is the PBOT commissioner…”

Are you under the impression that the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program is a project of PBOT? Because it is not.

Or do you think that Hardesty job at PBOT Commissioner somehow puts her in charge of this project? Hardesty is not the “PBOT commissioner” of Federal highway projects that bridge multiple municipalities and two different states, you know. Or do you know?

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
3 months ago
Reply to  Charley

Ultimately the City of Portland has to sign off on this project – and trust me, they will sign off – and PBOT advises your city council.

Charley
Charley
3 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

You know Hardesty is on my City Council, right? “Commissioner” is the title of the council members who are not the Mayor. So, while I’m certain you are correct that PBOT “advises” the city council, the bone of contention is Hardesty acting as a voting member as a Council, not as an advisor from PBOT. PBOT has a “Director” (Chris Warner), but its elected Commissioner is Hardesty.

Furthermore, while I agree that it appears the City of Portland has an important say in the process, I’m not sure if the City is legally entitled to a veto. I couldn’t find the legislation itself, but the website for the project only mentions Portland as a “Regional Agency Partner,” and claims that these parters are “central to program development”, not veto-level authorities. Since the whole effort was kicked off by a Joint Oregon-Washington Legislative Committee, created by the WA state legislature, it seems likely to me that the OR and WA state legislatures would have final say. But then, I can’t tell from the internet.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
3 months ago
Reply to  Charley

No, you are correct, PBOT nor the City of Portland have any veto powers in this case, but it would look pretty bad if they didn’t sign off on it – likely it would be Chris Warner and/or the City Traffic Engineer making the actual signatures rather than the mayor or transportation commissioner – and harder down the road for PBOT to get state officials to sign off on city projects in good time. Quid pro quo and all that…

Charley
Charley
3 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Agreed. It would be pretty bad form to bulldoze over the City’s objection (however, see the long comment below about how bulldozing might be better sometimes).

Dwk
Dwk
3 months ago
Reply to  Charley

Ok, she is obviously not in charge but the reason she Is included in the article is obviously because she is PBOT Commissioner.
Is somehow criticism of the PBOT commissioner out of bounds on a transportation project?
Can I criticize Ted Wheeler because the city he is mayor of is poorly run or is that out of bounds?
She has odd protectors, you must be on her campaign.
She is a public figure!!

Charley
Charley
3 months ago
Reply to  Dwk

Criticism is not at all out of bounds! You appear to have mistaken my original comments, so I’ll copy it and try to restate it more clearly:

Hardesty quotes are like a lightning rod that attract angry comments. Her quotes in this article had a similar character to that of the other elected officials. . . but they certainly elicit a more emotional reaction.

I wrote this because I noticed that, within an hour or so of the article’s release, there was a negative comment about Hardesty. Within a few hours of that, there were four follow-up comments that echoed that original negative sentiment.

Commenters, meanwhile, have yet to mention either Peterson or Nolan (the two other elected officials quoted in the article), a full 24 hours later.

While Hardesty’s sentiments were not very different from Peterson’s or Nolan’s, the reaction to Hardesty was immediate.

Also, the reaction was clearly emotionally aroused, and lacking in substantive critical thinking related to her role in planning for the Bridge.

Specifically, the commenters’ emotionally aroused responses seemed to focus on issues outside the coverage of the article. Neither the original comment nor the follow-ups presented an argument as to how her sentiment (as presented in the article: that the level of detail in the bridge planning is low, and the timing of the finalized bridge plan would be inconvenient), is bad or wrong.

I’m all about critical thinking and I think you should criticize elected officials all day long! But I have yet to hear it, and I find that interesting that the intense emotional reaction to to this article is limited to Hardesty herself.

It seems that the mere mention of Hardesty in an article is sufficient cause to stimulate an immediate outpouring of negative sentiment from several regular commenters. That’s what I was pointing out, and if you can disprove it, I’m all ears.

Roberta Robles
Roberta Robles
3 months ago
Reply to  ivan

Hey Sorry guys, I’m like a troll magnet. They want to diminish indigenous voices. Thanks for calling them out. If the comments do not address the article they should be removed. They will take statements out of context in attempts to slander/stear the conversation. These guys follow me to a whole host of other sites I comment on not relating to biking.

The same environmental engineering (Parametrix) firm that worked for David Evans is now working for whoever is the lead engineering firm this time around. I forgot their names, but the people are all the same. ODOT and WASHDOT are planted pro-freeway lackeys as paid employees.

So they are giving the elected officials the drawings of what they WANT to build, not a full suite of options. And then at the “last” minute slam it through. They are trying to ram an all or nothing freeway bridge; whereas we all know we need a series of 3 or so bridges and give zero chucks for the historic airfield at the Fort. That is stolen land anyways.

Our elected officials won’t be getting the real details cause Sen. Lew Frederick. His stance should be we need 3 bridges. High speed, active/Max, and Freeway BRT. Then we wouldn’t have to widen the entire freeway five miles north and south. The actual cost is only $1b/bridge. The extra $2-3 billion is for the all or nothing freeway widening. I have read Joe Cortwright’s freeway estimates on his website and concur with his analysis and used his estimates.

In short: We could get three smallish bridges for one giant freeway bridge. But ODOT isn’t presenting that option. Right now I am supporting and giving voice to Sen. Lew Frederick to please take this position. Please Buttigeg, come down and broker us a real deal Plzzzz.

Sam Churchill
3 months ago

IBR needs an animated, realistic 3D rendering, so users can envision it better. Give us 90 seconds, times three or four options. Perhaps IBR DOES NOT WANT to show the actuality. Too bad. We’re the client. We need to see it.

– Sam Churchill, Hayden Island

https://youtu.be/UoPXzzK_g1Q

buildwithjoe
3 months ago
Reply to  Sam Churchill

Public: In 2011 we asked for a scale model and details on CRC version 1.0
ODOT: We spent 300 million on contractors and have no need for that
Public: In 2021 we are asking for a scale model and visuals
ODOT:

ODOT: We pick some of the least common questions about this project and made a video where we call them “stupid” and that makes us sound smart.

video below:

https://youtu.be/N3S8o9_p_dE

video above

Charley
Charley
3 months ago

This is a fascinating example of the tension between the “bulldozer” and “vetocracy” poles of political systems (Vitalik Buterin).

On the one hand, I’m happy to see that, along all the veto points of the various CRC processes over the last decade+, local activists and elected officials have managed to prevent a expensive highway expansion project that would have incentivized exurban sprawl.

On the other hand, if ODOT was instead trying to build a bridge with great bike lanes, light-rail, and modern safety features, I’d be pretty ticked if a bunch of corporate oil/gas/trucking lobbyists managed to kill it.

I’m not sure there’s a way of constructing a political system that would somehow square these divergent interests. When it comes down to it, I personally want local advocate to have the power to veto bad projects, but I also want governments to be able to quickly bulldoze through opposition to build good projects!

In other words, when the CRC was nixed, in part, because Vancouver decision makers didn’t want light rail or tolling, that was a bad veto point. On the other hand, when the CRC was nixed, in part, because Portland decision makers didn’t want a massive highway expansion, that was a good veto point.

In this case, aside from the incredible waste of taxpayer resources that all the planning has incurred, I’m pretty happy for the project to face backlash. But I still worry that, when good projects come along, this same system of delay and pushback will drive up costs and/or prevent necessary change. I especially worry that this occurs with climate and conservation infrastructure, like bus lanes, market-rate apartment buildings, and greenways.

Charley
Charley
3 months ago
Reply to  Charley

A super nerdy aside about the specific desires of the elected officials in this case (they’d like the opportunity to select a preferred plan out of a few choices, rather than simply sign off on a single, finalized plan):

I often see people complain, during public comment periods about public infrastructure, that the government agency “already has a plan made”, and doesn’t actually care about input. In other words, even if there are a slew of optional plans suggested during public comment periods, the agency in question is merely going through the motions; they already have one of those plan in mind, and will ignore any input, even if a majority of the input favors a different plan.

But the reality is that public input is always biased. Most people don’t have the time or wherewithal to provide comment in the fora that agencies provide. Even the lowest common denominator of public feedback, a response to an internet survey, requires a computer, proficiency in English, and time to answer sometimes abstract questions about infrastructure.

Public events are even worse; there’s a documented trend of older, whiter, richer people (especially homeowners), dominating public events and thus having a large sway on planning processes. Most people don’t have time to attend a zoning meeting, and, unfortunately, since the Covid pandemic began, the evidence is not any better for online community meetings.

In the case of an issue such as community approval of an apartment building, the prospective beneficiaries (people who could not afford to buy a house in the neighborhood, but could afford to rent an apartment in the same neighborhood), wouldn’t even live in the community!

These public input systems have an inherent status-quo bias that is truly dangerous in an era of climate change and high housing costs.

For that reason, it might make sense for government agencies to propose only “good” plans that make sense from a technocratic perspective, rather than “popular” plans that might satisfy the (inherently biased) feedback they are likely to receive.

Even if the input system was less biased, the options for elected input still leave a lot to be desired:

1. “Rubber stamp the final plan” option means that significant elements have been decided without input.
2. “Choose from among several options” would increase planning costs and timeframe, while leaving still leaving the available options up to agency control.
3. Continuous feedback (beginning, middle, and final project approval) is what gives us monstrous planning costs, decades-long timeframes, bloated costs due to “satisfy every constituent” motives, and an even greater chance the project will implode due to a grinding inability to satisfy conflicting demands. That’s why the CRC failed: it’s impossible to both have tolling and not have tolling, or to both have light rail and not have light rail.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
3 months ago
Reply to  Charley

I was once involved with a transportation paper survey of all East Portland households in 2012. Aside from the 3% response rate and all the useful suggestions for more sidewalks, crossings, and bike lanes, I’d say a majority wanted more freeways, close enough to be convenient but far enough away to not be noisy and polluting. Kind of discouraging really.

Charley
Charley
3 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

I can only imagine (though the famous Parks and Rec community meetings scenes gave me a sense).

Charley
Charley
3 months ago
Reply to  Steve C

Barf. It’s got a certain cold aesthetic that’s impressive. But it’s so clearly anti-human.

soren
3 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

There is a tendency for economically comfortable people who support active transportation to live in an epistemic bubble where they have little contact with this majority. And when they do, they hurl insults on social media (and on bike portland).

This is fine.

maxD
maxD
3 months ago

I would love to see ODOT take a serious look at the Submersed Tunnel and the Common Sense Alternative to see how they stack up. I hope these leaders can actually pressure ODOT to do some real analysisand actually do the creative design work to find the best solution instead of the one they have already committed to. Forget the sunk costs ODOT, nothing is built yet, do it right!

buildwithjoe
3 months ago
Reply to  maxD

Public: for 20 years we asked you to look at alternatives
ODOT: We picked one design. It’s the best.
Public: How did you pick one design
ODOT: Here is the sole document to explain our choice:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ndtgHl9RYcxK0KE_WGGrL7pO0gGzHh__x275DrWYiZg/edit?usp=sharing

google doc above.